Posts Tagged ‘Death’

 

Compare the emotions portrayed in Mrs Lazarus and Answer by Carol Anne Duffy.

Have you included:

1.       Overview

Both poems interweave ideas of love and death;

Both poems are personal and from a first person point of view – although Mrs Lazarus is narrative whereas Answer is a dramatic monologue;

The love in Answer is immutable, eternal and defeats death; the love in Mrs Lazarus changes and wanes on the death of her husband.

2.       Sensuality Both women display a high degree of sensuality in their language. Duffy shows women to be sensual and sexual in their relationships with men.

Answer:

  • Within the formality and rigidity of the structure, Duffy refers to the sensual pleasures of love:
    “kiss… tongue… heart… arms… mouth…”

Mrs Lazarus

  • The dead husband is reduced throughout the poem to “the shrunk size of a snapshot”, until “His scent” vacated the home. The husband’s presence reduced to a mere sense-perception, suggesting the warmth of the love they had shared
  • The sensuality of her shock on touching “a man’s strength”

 3.       Passion Both women are passionate in their loving

Answer:

  • The imagery of fire and “hissing flame” and the “small coal glowing” suggests passion
  • The choice of verbs suggests passion: “roaring, foaming… spinning… waves torn from my breath”
  • A high calibre student may make links from here also to Anne Hathaway as another example of a powerfully passionate and sensual character, particularly in the interplay of language and sensuality.

Mrs Lazarus

  • The passion of her grief is extreme in her passionate choice of verbs: “ripped… howled, shrieked, clawed”
  • The alliteration of “Gone home. Gutted the place” echoes the description of her passionately having “retched” his name. almost onomatopoeic.
  • A high calibre student may gon on and comment on the echoes here of Havisham but a pain from which Mrs Lazarus escapes whereas Mrs Havisham does not.

4.       The Partner

Answer:

  • The image of her lover’s kiss as a “fossil” suggests that even if his love were long dead (literally or emotionally) her love for him would endure
  • The image of the partner being “sealed up” or “locked” in ice suggests a form of death or absence;
  • The image of the partner’s body as “only breeze against my dress” suggests again an absence.
  • Notice how the speaker’s love remains as emphatic as ever in the repeated “yes yes” even if unrequited

Mrs Lazarus

  • His “dwindling” from husband to
  • “snapshot”, to
  • a “name” which no longer worked as a “spell” to conjure up the image of his “face”,
  • the eventual loss of the final physical evidence of his existence as the “last hair on his head / floated out from a book” and his scent was lost,
  • to just the “zero” of the wedding ring – notice the use of the physical shape of the ring to symbolising not the eternity of love as is traditional but the death of love and its reduction to nothing,
  • to “legend, language” and eventually
  • “memory”, devoid of emotion and allowing her to move on.
  • Notice that the process is one allowing her to become “healed” not of abandoning her husband
  • Notice the “horror” she feels when she finds him resurrected: “rotting shroud, moist and dishevelled”
  • Not simply a visceral horror of the reanimated rotting corpse (more zombie than resurrection) but also the emotional horror of facing the man she has moved on from, rendering him a mere “cuckold”

 5.       Conclusion

Which version of love seems most realistic or healthy?

A love that continues despite the death or absence or withdrawal of the lover sounds romantic, but can become obsessive, self-defeating and ultimately a form of “death” itself.

A passionate love that feels desolation and grief but allows the surviving partner to heal seems much more healthy.

Advertisements

A more challenging comparison this time, perhaps? Mrs Lazarus and Answer.

Mrs Lazarus

I had grieved. I had wept for a night and a day
over my loss, ripped the cloth I was married in
from my breasts, howled, shrieked, clawed
at the burial stones until my hands bled, retched
his name over and over again, dead, dead.

Gone home. Gutted the place. Slept in a single cot,
widow, one empty glove, white femur
in the dust, half. Stuffed dark suits
into black bags, shuffled in a dead man’s shoes,
noosed the double knot of a tie around my bare neck,

gaunt nun in the mirror, touching herself. I learnt
the Stations of Bereavement, the icon of my face
in each bleak frame; but all those months
he was going away from me, dwindling
to the shrunk size of a snapshot, going,

going. Till his name was no longer a certain spell
for his face. The last hair on his head
floated out from a book. His scent went from the house.
The will was read. See, he was vanishing
to the small zero held by the gold of my ring.

Then he was gone. Then he was legend, language;
my arm on the arm of the schoolteacher-the shock
of a man’s strength under the sleeve of his coat-
along the hedgerows. But I was faithful
for as long as it took. Until he was memory.

So I could stand that evening in the field
in a shawl of fine air, healed, able
to watch the edge of the moon occur to the sky
and a hare thump from a hedge; then notice
the village men running towards me, shouting,

behind them the women and children, barking dogs,
and I knew. I knew by the sly light
on the blacksmith’s face, the shrill eyes
of the barmaid, the sudden hands bearing me
into the hot tang of the crowd parting before me.

He lived. I saw the horror on his face.
I heard his mother’s crazy song. I breathed
his stench; my bridegroom in his rotting shroud,
moist and dishevelled from the grave’s slack chew,
croaking his cuckold name, disinherited, out of his time.

Answer

If you were made of stone,
your kiss a fossil sealed up in your lips,
your eyes a sightless marble to my touch,
your grey hands pooling raindrops for the birds,
your long legs cold as rivers locked in ice,
if you were stone, if you were made of stone, yes, yes.

If you were made of fire,
your head a wild Medusa hissing flame,
your tongue a red-hot poker in your throat,
your heart a small coal glowing in your chest,
your fingers burning pungent brands on flesh,
if you were fire, if you were made of fire, yes, yes.

If you were made of water,
your voice a roaring, foaming waterfall,
your arms a whirlpool spinning me around,
your breast a deep, dark lake nursing the drowned,
your mouth an ocean, waves torn from your breath,
if you were water, if you were made of water, yes, yes.

If you were made of air,
your face empty and infinite as sky,
your words a wind with litter for its nouns,
your movements sudden gusts among the clouds,
your body only breeze against my dress,
if you were air, if you were made of air, yes, yes.

If you were made of air, if you were air,
if you were made of water, if you were water,
if you were made of fire, if you were fire,
if you were made of stone, if you were stone,
or if you were none of these, but really death,
the answer is yes, yes.